The broncho rider boys o.., p.21
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.21

           Lester Chadwick



  With all his clumsiness Billie had always seemed to be a lucky fellow.In times gone by his chums had often informed him that he must bear acharmed life; because when so stubbornly trying to break in that wildbroncho Jupiter, the fat boy had taken many a header that threatened todo him serious injury; but had always "come up smiling" after eachexperience, and ready to try it again.

  And apparently his good fortune still held good, for when he took thatflying leap through the open window of the ranch house, he did not havethe remotest idea where he would land, and yet he managed to strike in asoft place.

  It had been a very narrow escape, though; for hardly had the fat boypassed through the opening than it was occupied by the figure of Mrs.Comstock, with both her hands eagerly outstretched, showing that she hadanticipated seizing hold of the intruder.

  When he landed Billie purposely rolled over several times. He seemed tohave a dreadful fear lest the Amazon follow him through the window; justas a pursuing boy might have done.

  Having turned over completely several times he managed to sit up so asto take notice of the situation, and get his bearings.

  The first thing he saw was the head of Mr. Thomas thrust around the endof the nearby bunk house; and it was strange that Billie just happenedto notice how cautiously the pilgrim of the trail was peeping, as thoughhe would not be seen for worlds; there was a look of intense interest onhis thin face, too, as if he felt a personal interest in the wild flightof the lad.

  Next Billie saw Uncle Fred. He was trying to buckle the recovered beltaround his waist, and making a poor job of it, because his fingers weretrembling with the excitement; and besides, he felt it necessary to keepone eye fastened on that window, in which the form of his muscularbetter-half could be seen outlined.

  Billie also noted with solid satisfaction that the woman did not seem tobe making any move in his direction. She must have recognized the factthat her expected prey had eluded her grasp, and was satisfied to letthings go at that.

  But she was waving her fist in his direction, Billie noted; and hisheart beat with thanksgiving that he had been so fortunate as to avoidfeeling the weight of that hand.

  "What do you mean acrawling in through the back windows of this house,you fat cub?" she called out at him.

  Perhaps Billie had long ago become so accustomed to having all manner offun poked at him by his boy friends, on account of his ponderous sizethat he had ceased to get angry at any sort of nickname.

  Still, that was "a new one on him," he afterwards declared, and itrather rankled to be called a "fat cub."

  Billie was always polite, especially with the other sex; and so hemanaged to scramble to his feet, rather awkwardly to be sure, for he hadskinned his left knee in landing after that wild plunge; and trying tomake a sort of half-way sort of bow, he said:

  "I beg your pardon ma'm, but I was acting under orders from the boss. Hewanted his gun so's to be ready to fight the rustlers if they camealong, and asked me to get the same for him; so I clumb in through thewindow, because he said that was the shortest way around. And when youcame so sudden-like on me, why, I just got rattled some, I s'pose, andtook a jump through the window. But no damage was done 'cept that Iknocked a piece of skin off my left knee 'bout as big as my hand, feelslike. Sorry to have bothered you, ma'm, but I tried not to make anynoise, sure I did."

  "Yes, you crept in just like a thief, and I reckon that's what line youfollow when you're to home," the angry woman flung at him, accompanyingeach word with a furious shake of her hand, which seemed disappointednot to have been able to bury itself among Billie's hair.

  "It was all my fault, Josie," remarked Mr. Comstock just then, possiblyashamed to let the boy bear the brunt of her displeasure; "I wanted mybelt very much; and you seemed to be having one of your headaches, so Ithought I wouldn't pass in through your room and disturb you. I askedhim to just crawl through the window and reach my belt, which hesucceeded in doing. It's all right, Josie!"

  "Oh! you think so, do you, Mr. Fred Comstock?" she cried shrilly, andwith her blazing eyes turned toward her husband. "Shows what sort of acoward you are, sir, to employ a silly fool of a boy to pull yourchestnuts out of the fire for you!"

  "But sometimes the fire burns a fellow's fingers, you know, Josie; andI've learned long ago not to worry you when--you're not feeling well,"the deposed manager of Bar-S Ranch went on to say, perhaps a little moreboldly than he might have dared had the distance separating him from thelady been less.

  As if afraid that he had been too rash in saying so much Uncle Fredturned, and hurried away, calling out as he started:

  "Better come along, Billie; plenty to look after for all of us who areleft behind. You did your work well, and I want to tell you I'm glad youdidn't get--that is, your injuries are not worse than a skinned knee.There are more dreadful things that can happen, my boy, take it fromme."

  This last he uttered in a low tone, and even at that something causedhim to cast a glance of apprehension over his shoulder when speaking;but Mrs. Fred had vanished from the window.

  As they turned the corner of the bunk-house they discovered the form ofThomas writhing on the ground.

  "Here, what's ailing you, my friend?" demanded the late manager; "ifyou've been suddenly taken sick I'm sorry that my medicine case is in mydesk; and just at present it's a physical impossibility for eitherBillie or myself to step in there to get it. Where do you feel bad?"

  At that the pilgrim of the trail looked up, and they saw that he wasgrinning.

  "'Tain't that I'm taken with the gripe, sir; not in the least," heexplained. "I'm only tickled to death at the narrow escape our youngfriend had. I thought he was a goner when I heard you shout out thatwarning, and saw him still inside there; but he made a great plunge. My!but the lady was provoked because he slipped out like a greased pig. Itwas a lucky escape for Broncho Billie, now, wasn't it, sir?"

  He chuckled as he said this, and even winked at Uncle Fred in a queerway. The late manager of the ranch turned somewhat red in the face, andeyed the other a little suspiciously. Then he shook his head.

  "Perhaps you know how peculiar some women are when they can't haveeverything they want, my friend," he remarked; "and how they're apt tocarry on. It may be now that you've had experience in the years that arepast and gone? Well, in that case you'll understand me when I remarkthat the least said the soonest mended. Forget what you chanced to see,and things will come easier for you here. Ladies have theirpeculiarities, and my wife never did like me tracking up her floors.That may be why I had Billie here make use of the window; because I'veoften used it myself rather than go all the way around."

  Mr. Thomas winked an eye again, and nodded his head in a knowing way, asif to admit that he might have passed through similar experiences atsome time in his past life.

  Billie could not help thinking that the wanderer seemed to have beenhugging himself while he rolled there on the ground, just as though hefelt a personal satisfaction in the escape of the boy who had been oneof those befriending him on the trail.

  If this were really the cause of his hilarity it showed that Mr. Thomaswas not without at least some degree of gratitude because of the favorsthey had bestowed on him.

  As the incident seemed closed now, and there were plenty of other thingslooming up in the near future that demanded attention, Billie cast itout of his mind. He only allowed it to crop up each time his woundedknee gave him a little twinge, as he limped around after Mr. Comstock.

  The stockman was soon very busy. He seemed to act like a different man,now that he could feel the presence of his faithful gun at his sidewhenever he allowed his hand to drop that way.

  Billie followed him to the corrals, which he inspected carefully, asthough meaning to discover any weakness that might interfere with hisplans. Every few minutes the ranchman would shade his eyes with his handand look earnestly around in several directions. Billie understood thathe was hoping to discover the first s
igns of the coming herds, whichmight be only in the shape of a cloud of dust along the horizon.

  It was an anxious time, for a great deal depended on getting the stockin where the faithful drovers could guard it, until such time as thedanger of a bold raid was past. Mr. Comstock had had so much troublewith the Walker crowd in the past that he would not put anything beyondthem nowadays. Men become flushed with success, and even lose theiraccustomed shrewdness; and while it would seem to be a reckless thingfor these rustlers to work in the open, still, acting under the beliefthat they had a friend at court in the shape of Comstock's wife, whowould restrain him from taking any radical measures looking toresistance; and also knowing that half the force of Bar-S Ranch wasvirtually ready to side with the raiders, there could be no telling whatwould happen.

  Billie, too, began to cast frequent looks along the distant horizon, inthe hope of discovering the first signs that would indicate the comingof his chums, along with the cattle, and the other cow-punchers.

  It was almost an hour after his little adventure along the flyingmachine order that Billie suddenly discovered what he sought.

  "They're coming, Mr. Comstock!" he called, limping toward the ranchman,who was busily engaged doing some mending at a weak place in the corral,which was made partly of ropes, and the balance of heavy poles broughtfrom the river bottom miles and miles away; "I can see dust in twoplaces; yes, and when the wind picked up just now I believe I heard thebellowing of cows."

  So the ranchman clapped his glasses to his eyes, and immediatelycorroborated what the boy had so confidently declared.

  "That's right, Billie!" he remarked, in some excitement; "and as sure asyou live I can see that the boys are shoving them along quite lively. Ihope now they haven't sighted the Walker clan coming with a rush;because, until we get those herds in the corrals with the rest here I'llnever feel satisfied," and he fingered his gun, as though half temptedto jump on a horse, and gallop out to meet the drivers.


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